THE Zimbabwe National Road Administration (ZINARA) is losing thousands of dollars in potential revenue daily through illegal tollgates and by-pass roads at the three toll plazas in the province, The Manica Post can reveal.
Investigations conducted by this publication revealed that individuals like Mr Padhina Dzumbira, who has had several brushes with the law for operating illegal tollgates, are now living large from the proceeds of the illegal activities.
Mr Dzumbira has been operating an illegal tollgate at the 22 Mile Toll Plaza along the Mutare-Chimanimani Road for years now and has a pending extortion case before the courts.
Some of the culprits have built and electrified their houses from the illegal activity. Law enforcement agents are reported to be part of the scam as some of them man these unsanctioned tollgates at night, collecting various amounts from motorists by-passing the tollgates.
Both the police and road authorities confirmed the presence of illegal tollgates and by-pass roads and said some of the operators were unrepentant despite being brought to book on several occasions.
At 22 Miles, the by-pass road is a stone’s throw from the tollgate manned 24 hours by heavily armed police offices, while at the Magamba and Rusape tollgates, by-pass roads have been developed and are now popular with pirate vehicles, popularly known as mushikashika.
The by-pass roads pass through nearby farms. Some motorists, especially haulage truck drivers, opt to circumvent the Magamba Toll Plaza by using the Grange Road that passes through Old Mutare Mission before getting back onto the Mutare-Harare Highway near Odzi River.
A visit to the 22 Miles Toll Plaza last Saturday revealed that the by-pass road was well maintained. Operators of the illegal tollgate have even erected a boom gate and a vending stall where they sell various wares to the commuting public as they await their turn to be served. So busy is the illegal tollgate that hardly five minutes pass by without a vehicle passing through.
While Finance and Economic Development Minister Professor Mthuli Ncube announced in his 2021 National Budget Statement that light motor vehicles were supposed to pay toll fees of US$2, minibuses (US$3), buses (US$4), heavy trucks (US$5) and haulage trucks (US$10) or the equivalent at the prevailing interbank rate, motorists pay whatever they want at the 22 Miles Toll Plaza, even as little as $10.
Last year, the Parliamentary Committee on Transport and Infrastructure Development came face-to-face with the rot at the 22 Miles Toll Plaza and received an ear-bashing from Mr Dzumbira who told them that no one could stop him from collecting the money as the illegal tollgate was in his field.
Mr Dzumbira had the guts to deny the parliamentarians access through the by-pass.
“This is my farm and you do not have a right to enter the premises, I am now calling the Lands Commissioner,” he shouted.
Shurugwi North legislator, Honourable Robson Nyathi, was leading the Portfolio Committee back then and said they would take the matter up. However, several months later, Mr Dzumbira is still enjoying the fruits of his illegal enterprise.
In an interview with The Manica Post, Manicaland Provincial Road Engineer Atherton Zindoga said the illegal tollgates and by-pass roads were now a perennial headache.
“The Government is losing a lot of revenue through these illegal tollgates and by-pass roads. At all the three toll plazas in Manicaland, some motorists are using by-pass roads to circumvent them. The notorious one is the 22 Miles Toll Plaza where Dzumbira has been operating an illegal tollgate for a very long time.
“He has been arrested before, but he has remained adamant. We do not know who is backing him. Last month, we wrote him a letter warning him to stop his operations, but he didn’t stop. Police moved in and arrested him, but we have gathered that he is back to man the illegal tollgate,” said Eng Zindoga.
“We have resolved to barricade the by-pass road. We will only leave a road that will go directly to Dzumbira’s homestead. We also hope that the police manning the tollgate will also assist us in ensuring that all the illegal activities are stopped. On the other tollgates along the Mutare-Harare Highway, we will also ensure that all illegal by-pass roads are sealed,” said Eng Zindoga.
Manicaland provincial police spokesperson, Inspector Luxson Chananda said extortion charges are levelled against those who force motorists to pay money at illegal tollgates.
“While using illegal tollgates is an offence, those charging for their use will also be charged with extortion. The Dzumbira case is still pending before the courts.
“As for law enforcement agents alleged to be manning illegal tollgates at night, we urge the public to be whistleblowers and provide us with the relevant information so that we can put up the necessary measures to bring the culprits to book,” said Inspector Chananda.
Repeated efforts to get a comment from Zinara were fruitless as they were reportedly still working on the responses by the time of going to print.
Meanwhile, over the past six months Zinara has disbursed $173 million for road repairs in Manicaland.
In a recent statement, Transport and Infrastructural Development Minister Felix Mhona said road rehabilitation programmes are a priority following two decades of neglect, with most of the roads having outlived their life span.
He said by launching the Emergency Road Rehabilitation Programme 2 (ERRP 2), President Mnangagwa committed to transforming the country’s road network.
“Our flagship being implemented under the Second Republic is the refurbishment of the Harare-Beitbridge highway. We are refurbishing the road using local resources and so far, more than 200km have been opened for traffic while other stretches are going to be opened soon.
“I therefore encourage Zinara to continue mobilising funds for capital projects of this nature in line with Vision 2030. It is no longer business as usual as Zinara comes up with smart ways of collecting road user fees for sustainable road development,” said Minister Mhona.
— Manica Post